Under Review: The Music Tapes – Purim’s Shadows (The Dark Tours The World)

For as inviting and friendly as Julian Koster comes across in his music, he’s quite the enigmatic soul. Koster first came into the spotlight as the multi-instrumentalist sound whiz of Neutral Milk Hotel. As the beloved indie outfit’s even more inscrutable leader, Jeff Mangum, receded into obscurity, Koster has been afforded the chance to let his own peculiar creative voice shine. With The Music Tapes, Koster not only explores a fascination with unusual topics (included, but not limited to clouds, reindeer and George Reeves), but also an array of antique and otherwise curious musical instruments. From 19th century wax cylinders to musical contraptions built by Koster himself (like a seven-foot-tall metronome), The Music Tapes’ music arrives on an appropriately staggered schedule. After all, if you had to use esoteric equipment to produce a record that was up to modern standards, you’d have to take your time. Nearly ten years passed between The Music Tapes’ first and second album, and as Koster readies multiple new releases (according to him), an EP of new songs has been dispatched from the highly secretive camp.

In a mere seven tracks, Purim’s Shadows (The Dark Tours The World) shows off nearly everything in The Music Tapes’ arsenal. Koster’s honest, wavering vocals are whimsically accompanied by accordions, harmoniums, bowed banjos and, of course, Koster’s beloved singing saws. With little time to establish an elaborate storyline, Purim’s Shadows is The Music Tapes’ most song-based effort to date. Opening cut “So The Day Long” is haunting but rousing, moving between several increasingly soaring movements. The sparsely adorned take on Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” ends with a saw solo from guest performer Ian Ludders. Other guests on Purim’s Shadows include accordionist Evan Harlan on the joyous closing instrumental, “Hacidem,” and a few other members of the fabled Elephant Six collective (of which The Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel were/are associated) on “4 (Jeff, Jill, and Julian Serenade Rudy on the Beach at Nantasket).” As a taste of what’s to come from Koster, Purim’s Shadows serves as a bountiful stopgap. Still, its very nature as a between-records EP makes me anxious for what Koster has in store.

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~ by E. on August 10, 2011.

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